ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Deferential Challenge to Mainstream Historiography of India’s Foreign Policy

Power and Diplomacy: India’s Foreign Policies during the Cold War by Zorawar Daulet Singh, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019; pp xv + 399, ₹ 845.


Power and Diplomacy: India’s Foreign Policies during the Cold War presents itself as a decisive intervention in mainstream historiography of India’s foreign policy. It seeks to displace a dominant conception that India’s foreign policies during the Cold War, subsumed under that blanket term “non-alignment,” remained more or less static, and it was only after the end of the Cold War that they underwent a sea change. Instead, it asserts that a “dramatic shift” (p 34) in India’s foreign policies, to be precise, a shift in India’s regional policy, took place during the Cold War itself, and this shift could be located in the transition from Jawaharlal Nehru’s period to that of Indira Gandhi’s. This shift, the book argues, could be attributed neither to changing external environment (post-1962 China war) nor to rising material capabilities (after three Five Year Plans), but should be seen as a result of “change in regional role conceptions” (p 2) of the “core policy makers” (p 18) from the Nehru to Indira Gandhi periods. These changing role conceptions reflected policymakers’ changing “beliefs and images” concerning Indian “state’s interaction with its external environment” (p 2).

In the Nehru period, “Asia was deemed as the primary domain of regional activity with South Asia subsumed within” it, while in the Indira Gandhi period, “the primary domain contracted to South Asia and Asia became a peripheral domain, one that was viewed through the sub-continental setting” (p 25). The book argues further that this contraction of “geopolitical scope” of India’s regional statecraft was accompanied by the shift in “modes of regional policy behaviour,” which it describes as a shift from “extra-regional peacemaker role” in the Nehru period to that of “sub-continental security seeker role” in the Indira Gandhi period, with “narrower conceptions of order and security” (p 2). Drawing upon archival and oral sources, it offers an empirical demonstration of this shift through a comparative analysis of Indian policymakers’ responses to three “regional crises” from each period, where regional crises are defined as “major events relating to war and peace or perceived to hold significant implications for regional order and stability” (p 24).

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Updated On : 14th Feb, 2020
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